Sunday, August 05, 2012

Silver Oak Finale at Bravo Vail

The Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival finished their Silver Oak Series of new and old music on Thursday. Night one had been wonderful, but night two was mixed. As it turned out, night three was weak as well. The programming for the last two nights was off, and the final night was marred by a cancellation. The night had intended to feature two string quartets again, but one of the violinists had to leave town for the birth of his baby (best wishes to them), which was great news for him, but a big letdown for the audience.

The feature of the night was a new piece by Steven Mackey. Once again, I do not understand the programming. Mackey's new, long, and dissonant piece for electric guitar and string quartet OPENED the evening, rather than closing it. Hey, when you have a special guest, put him at the end of the program. The piece was not well-liked by the audience. The highlight was when an audience member broke a wine glass loudly, and the musicians broke up laughing. The first section of the piece worked quite well, with a nice ostinato that kept things moving forward. But the piece was just too long and serious for an opener. Most of the audience is not there to hear the new music. You have to guide them into it.

A perfect example of this would be the second piece on the program. It was an homage to an elderly blues singer, interpreted through string quartet (also by Mackey). This brief piece would have been the perfect overture for the evening. It was enjoyed by all and would have made a nice transition from tonal to dissonant.

Most of the remainder of the evening was cancelled. A Barber String Quartet Golijov's Nonet for Double String Quartet and Bass, and Schubert's String Quartet were all dumped from the program. This would have been a long program anyway. They were replaced with the Calder Quartet performing Mozart's Dissonant Quartet. A nice last minute replacement, and very well liked by the audience.

After a long intermission, the group returned to perform Philip Glass's American Four Seasons. I can't stand Philip Glass. There are so many talented contemporary composers, most of them unknown, who could have been featured, but instead we get the one "rock star" of the concert hall over and over. And over. And over. So we left.

I still have high hopes that this series can turn itself around next year. Programming is everything. Take a note from night one's successes (short sets of short pieces, intermingling all styles of music) and from the failures of the next two nights (long dissonant pieces early in the of the program, and anti-climactic second halves). Create a solid theme for the evening, warm the audience up, give them some wine, and bring out a guest for the second half. It's not rocket science.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Gabriel Kahane at Vail

Gabriel Kahane was the guest of honor last night.

Apologies for all the typos. Blogger has yet to work on a good interface for the iPad. 

Night one of the Bravo Vail new series was a stunning success (see my previous post)  but last night was a complete cluster. You know there's a problem when the guest of honor announces that the first half of the evening will be completely different than what is on the program, then spends ten minutes talking about what is going to happen, including announcing that he is going to talk. 

Gabriel Kahane, conductor Jeffrey Kahane's son was the guest, in a series designed to mingle new and old music. It's a great concept, but Kahane was a terrible choice.  First off, old the big name guest for the second half of the program. Get people interested with some good music in the first half, then they will stay for the second. The whole program was very long. 

It began with Kahane singing one of Franz Schubert's songs. It was a nice start, but Kahane's pop head voice could not be more poorly suited to the music. Let a real classical singer handle this. He followed this with an introduction for the Calder Quartet to perform the Ades Arcadiana for String Quartet. Then one of the violinists from the quartet spoke at length about the Ades. A brief piano piece had been performed the previous night to much success, but this lengthy seven-movement mostly atonal piece was a complete bust with the audience. At least half of them left at the break, and I think this piece was a big part of that. Had this piece been dropped form the program, it would behave been a reasonable length. 

Kane then returned to the songs, intermingling Schubert with several of Charles Ives song,s including my favorite of the evening, "Tom Sails Away." it would have made more sense to sing these all together rather than interrupting with the Ades quartet. And again, these songs cry out for a lyric baritone or tenor.  

Kahane then performed a lengthy original work, Come on all you Ghosts based on the interesting poems of Matthew Zapruder. Obviously his folk-sounding voice fit this music better, but it was not a crowd-pleaser. This should have been the final piece of the night, keeping his fans in the audience until the end of the evening. 

After a very lengthy intermission (where the was not nearly enough food) the second half of the program featured a set of music for four hands.  This set was by far the best part of the evening, much like the previous night, but most of the audience missed it because they had left. But a groups of short pieces by Ligeti, Bach, and Wolfgang Rihm were wonderfully played. 

In another strange programming turn, the concert finished with Schumann's Quintet in E flat, performed by a different quartet, the Jasper, whom we heard on a previous night.  This was the biggest crowd pleaser of the evening, although I'm not us why it was in this program, why it was last, or why it was a different quartet playing it.  

I hope to tonight's concert will be much better programmed. Tonight features a new piece by Steven Mackey for electric guitar and string quartet. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Silver Oak Series at Vail

Anne-Marie McDermott plays at the Bravo Vail festival

The Vail festival took things up a notch with a new series that programs old and new works in short sets, played together as one long piece. The music spans 500 years.  Ms. McDermott opened with a nice set of Bach, Chopin, and Thomas Ades. For such an emotional performer, she was surprisingly dry on the Bach, but her performance of the Ades "First Mazurka" was excellent. She also played the last set of the evening, a commissioned piece by Clarice Assad which was another Mazurka. The piece was modern but quite comically included a recurring "ice cream truck" theme that had apparently driven the composer crazy while trying to write. This was followed by the worst piece on the program, John Adams' vanilla and forgettable "China Gates," which was quickly redeemed by Debussy to complete the evening. 

However, the highlights of the evening were the sets perforemed by two other pianists. Steven Prutsman played the best set in my opinion, with five disparate pieces played together. I did not look too closely at the program before the performance, but if I had, I would have wondered how these pieces would work together. Original score from the movie DIVA (a favorite film of mine, with great music) was followed by Couperin, then immediately by jazz pianist Bill Evans', then into Scriabin, finished with a piano adaptation of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score to FAREWELL MOON. the entire performance was breathtaking, and the venue's beauty (with the mountains visible in the windows behind the sage) only added to the effect. 

I have often wondered why jazz and classical music are not performed together more often.  I'm very happy to see this festival moving forward. The event was sold out, and included wine tasting and appetizers. 

The other great set was performed by Bosnian pianist Pedja Muzijevic. He began with Liszt, and then moved to Morton Feldman's "Intermission 1."  He then leaped back in time almost 250 years to a Scarlatti sonata, then back to the near present with a "Pastorale" from George Crumb, which makes excellent use of the sostenuto (middle) pedal on the piano, creating a ghostly effect. H ecompleted his set with a piece I love, Debussy's Prelude "What the West Wind Saw," which I used in one of my student films at USC. 

I am really looking forward  to tonight's concert featuring Gabriel Kahane.